Pushing Boundary-Free GroupLife

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Thinking Thursday: How to use others’ feedback to learn and grow

sheila heen(This is a very similar talk to what might have been the most unexpectedly packed with insights talks at this year’s Global Leadership Summit)

Most efforts to improve individual and organizational learning focus on teaching people how to give feedback. After years of consulting with organizations around the world on how to manage their most challenging conversations, Heen and her colleagues realized they may have been thinking about the problem the wrong way. She explains why, if you want to improve learning in your organization, the smart money is on figuring out how to receive feedback—even off-base or poorly delivered feedback—and use it to fuel growth.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Global Leadership Summit GroupLife Insights Day 2

glsLast Thursday and Friday I had the privilege of attending the Global Leadership Summit yesterday. It’s an annual event for me and I’ve only missed a few of them since it began in 1995. If it’s not an annual event for you…it should be. The GLS is always inspiring and refreshing.

Here are my highlights from Day 1 at the Global Leadership Summit.

Friday’s speakers were Horst Schulze, Sheila Heen, Brian Houston, Sam Adeyemi, Liz Wiseman and Craig Groeschel.

Although every speaker had highlights, there were several that particularly pertain to small group ministry and our work as small group pastors and champions.

Here are my grouplife highlights:

Sheila Heen’s talk on feedback might have been the most unexpectedly applicable to what we do. Heen, the co-author of Thanks for the Feedbackhas spent two decades at the Harvard Negotiation Project specializing in our most difficult conversations—where disagreements are strong, emotions run high and relationships become strained.

I took furious notes, tweeted a ton of great one-liners, and ran over to the resource center to buy the book (only to find it already sold out).

The primary takeaway for me during Heen’s session was how essential feedback is to spiritual growth:

  1. “When you ask for and invite feedback, you will accelerate your professional and spiritual growth.”
  2. “Appreciation keeps us motivated, Coaching helps us get better, Evaluation lets us know where we stand”
  3. “God’s love for us in nutshell: God accepts us just as we are right now and commands us to learn and grow.”
  4. “In order to receive feedback well you need to learn to see yourself clearly.”
  5. “What’s one thing you see me doing – or failing to do – that you think I should change?”
  6. “Learning to give and receive feedback is what leadership and the Christian walk is all about.”
  7. “There are 2 human needs: (1) The need to learn and grow and (2) the need to be accepted or respected or loved the way we are now.”
  8. “The fastest way to change the feedback culture in an organization is for the leaders to become better receivers.”

I found myself again and again thinking, “Feedback is essential to spiritual growth. How can I include the practice of feedback in our discipleship pathway?”

Craig Groeschel’s talk was very powerful but one specific line was a game-changer:

“You may be one relationship away from changing the course of your destiny.”

For you and me and the men and women involved (and uninvolved) in our ministries…is this not a game-changing idea?

If you missed them, here are my grouplife highlights to Day 1 at the Global Leadership Summit.

What Was the Last Thing You Learned?

last thingWhat was the last thing you learned? I remember hearing in seminary that you could tell by the copyright dates on the shelves of your library when you quit learning. I don’t know whether that’s completely accurate, but I do know this…once you quit learning, you might as well throw in the towel.

Leaders are insatiable learners. In perhaps “the most quietly influential speeches in the history of American business,” John W. Gardner proclaimed, “Be interested. Everyone wants to be interesting, but the vitalizing thing is to be interested…As the proverb says, ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.’”

What was the last thing you learned? Or the most recent thing you learned?

In the last year we learned that you can exponentially increase the number of new hosts by simply tweaking the HOST ask to say, “If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with…you can do it and we want to help you.”

“If you have a couple friends.” Think about it. Everyone has a couple friends. What if it is truly that simple?

Need to fan your inner insatiable learner into flame?  Let me suggest three things you should do immediately:

  1. Become a reader. This is not complicated. If you’re not reading, you’re not likely to be adding enough inputs to keep your thinking fresh. This morning I ordered three books that caught my eye and ended up on my Amazon wishlist: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, Louder than Words by Todd Henry, and How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. What are you reading?
  2. Listen to podcasts. If you’re not taking advantage of a variety of podcasts…you’re missing a huge opportunity. I listen to an eclectic list of podcasts every week. Some of my favorites include The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, The Accidental Creative, Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, Freakonomics Radio, Radiolab from WNWC, and the TED Radio Hour. What are you listening to?
  3. Connect regularly with a network. This is a really big thing. If you’re not cultivating a group of peers as well as cross-pollinating with experts from other fields…you’re missing the main chance. The easiest way to find a group of peers is to locate a huddle on the Small Group Network. Cross-pollinating takes only slightly more effort. As you meet experts from other fields, simply be curious. Invite them for coffee or lunch. Ask questions. Be on the lookout for the faint glimpses of what Steven Johnson referred to as the adjacent possible.

You can do it!

What was the last thing you learned?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by MUTEvibe

7 Things You Should Know about the HOST Strategy (for starting new groups)

Man drawing a game strategyWhen the HOST strategy was introduced by Saddleback in 2002 during the launch of 40 Days of Purpose it truly was a game-changing innovation. The idea that the senior pastor could challenge members of the congregation who had a heart for unconnected people to open up their home for 6 weeks, serve a simple snack, and turn on their VCR–and the results would be nothing short of miraculous–well, it was an amazing idea. See also, HOST: What Does It Mean?

13 years later it is still a powerfully effective strategy. It’s also a strategy that is often misunderstood (and poorly implemented) by many.

And I’d hate for you to be one that misunderstands or poorly implements this powerful strategy.

Here are 7 things you should know about the HOST strategy:

  1. The HOST strategy connects the friends, neighbors, co-workers and family of the people who say yes to hosting a group. Because the host is gathering their own group (and you’re not assigning members to the new groups), there is usually less concern about the qualifications of the host. See also, FAQ: How Should We Respond to Objections about Who Can Host? and Customized Leader Requirements and Benefits.
  2. The HOST strategy is not an effective way to connect large numbers of unconnected people in your congregation (and crowd) who do not know a host. What about unconnected people in your congregation (and crowd)? Since you will not be assigning members to HOSTs, you will need another strategy to connect those who do not know a HOST. It is very common to hold a small group connection to connect unconnected people within the congregation (and crowd) and use the HOST strategy to reach into the community. With a little work you can also use a mashup of HOST sign-up along with a kind of small group fair to connect people. See also, A Potentially Game-Changing Mashup We’ll Be Testing in September.
  3. The most effective HOST asks are made by your senior pastor during a message. There are two keys to this point. First, your senior pastor is almost always the most influential person in the church and the HOST ask cannot be delegated if you want it to be effective. Second, the best time to make the ask is during the message. You can include the opportunity during the preservice slide roll and you can include it as an announcement, but the most effective moment is during the message. See also, How to Make the HOST Ask: The 2012 Version.
  4. “If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with” is a game-changing secret phrase. You don’t need 10 friends to start a group. You need a couple. You don’t even need to refer to what you’re doing as “starting a group.” All you’re asking them to do is “invite a couple friends to do the study with you.” See also, Saddleback Changes the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  5. The most effective HOST asks reach the outer edge of the congregation (and into the crowd). Don’t miss this important understanding. The most connected people in your congregation have the fewest connections with unconnected people. When your HOST ask compellingly invites the least connected people in your congregation (and crowd) to consider inviting their own friends (who often have never been to your church) to do the study, you have the recipe for a powerful church-wide campaign. See also, Do You Know about This Game-Changing Connection Secret?
  6. You must make the HOST ask several weeks in a row. There are at least two good reasons to make the HOST ask several weeks in a row. First, if you want more of your congregation (and crowd) to have an opportunity to respond to the ask, you need recognize that everyone will not be there on one weekend. Second, the people in your congregation (and crowd) with the strongest outside connections are almost always less frequent attenders. See also, Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row.
  7. The study you choose absolutely determines who will say “yes” to hosting a group. Potential hosts decide right away whether they could invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers and family to study that topic. Keep this important reality in mind when you choose the topic. If you hope to connect the friends, neighbors, co-workers and family of your hosts, you need to choose a topic unconnected people would be interested in. See also, Your Church-Wide Campaign Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Global Leadership Summit GroupLife Insights Day 1

glsI had the privilege of attending the Global Leadership Summit yesterday. It’s an annual event for me and I’ve only missed a few of them since it began in 1995. If it’s not an annual event for you…it should be. The GLS is always inspiring and refreshing.

Day 1 was just another day at the GLS and featured talks by Bill Hybels, Jim Collins, Ed Catmull, Adam Grant, Dr, Brené Brown, Sallie Krawcheck, and Albert Tate.

Although every speaker had highlights, there were several that particularly pertain to small group ministry and our work as small group pastors and champions.

Here are my highlights:

Bill Hybels’ talk outlined what he referred to as the 5 intangibles of leadership. He identified them as grit, self-awareness, resourcefulness, self-sacrificing love, and a sense of meaning. His thoughts on self-sacrificing love will definitely make it into my work effective immediately.

  • Vision is not the core of the core of leadership.
  • Self-sacrificing love has always been and will always be at the absolute core of leadership.
  • Love never leaves a heart the way it found it. Love changes people.
  • Love melts people and molds people into tightly knit communities that feel more like families than work groups.

When I think about what I want to happen in the lives of the members of our life groups, there is no question that I want every one of them to know what it’s like to be loved and to learn how to love like Jesus loved. If ever there was one who practiced self-sacrificing love, it was Jesus.

Jim Collins’ talk laid out 7 questions that define our leadership:

  1. What cause do you serve with level 5 ambition?
  2. Will you settle for being a good leader or will you grow to become a great leader?
  3. How can you reframe failure as growth?
  4. How can you succeed by helping others succeed?
  5. Have you found your personal hedgehog?
  6. Will you build your unit into a pocket of greatness?
  7. How will you change the lives of others?

For me, the essence of Collins’ talk was that “level 4 leaders inspire people to follow them, but level 5 leaders inspire people to follow a cause.” I believe that is a very significant grouplife insight. Can you see it? Whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of your groups, must happen in the life of the leader first. And if you want members to follow a cause, you will need to be recruiting high capacity (level 5) leaders as coaches and community leaders.

Brené Brown always delivers and it is always very powerful from a grouplife perspective. Yesterday’s talk was no exception and was packed with great insights into the heart of small group ministry.

The line that gripped me was this one: “The bravest among us will always be the most broken-hearted because we have the courage to love.”

Takeaway: If we we are not broken-hearted…we have probably remained aloof from the kind of authentic life-on-life that we tell everyone else they need. Life-change happens best in groups where people have the courage to love and be loved.

Thinking Thursday: Tony Robbins: Why we do what we do

tony robbinsTony Robbins discusses the “invisible forces” that motivate everyone’s actions — and high-fives Al Gore in the front row.

Every week I choose a video that I think you need to see and believe will inspire some new thinking. You can find the rest of the collection right here.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Don’t Miss “I Will”: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian

i willA few weeks ago I received an email asking if I’d like to review a new book by Thom Rainer, the co-author of Simple Church (with Eric Geiger) and Transformational Church (with Ed Stetzer), two books I highly recommend.  The new book was called I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian.

Can I let you in on a secret? When I saw the title I was intrigued and even a little hopeful, but not at all confident that I’d find it helpful.  Nothing to do with Thom Rainer’s writing.  I’ve loved many of his books (and he has a very helpful blog).  I just wasn’t sure how well his ideas about an outward focus would line up with others who have championed an externally focused or missional approach.

Know what I found?  Just like my experience with I Am a Church Member, I could not put it down!  Read the whole thing in one sitting.  Again, it’s a short book. Just over 100 pages and it’s an easy read. Don’t be fooled though. I Will is packed with many powerful insights that will leave you nodding your head in agreement and vowing to do something with it.

I really like the way Rainer framed the discussion at the outset by contrasting the typical self-serving, the-church-exists-to-meet-my-needs church with a church with an others-centered approach.

Rainer’s I Am a Church Member was about being a part of the body of Christ. I Will is about the move from a right attitude (I am) to right actions (I will). What are the nine traits?

  • I will move from “I am” to “I will”
  • I will worship with others
  • I will grow together with others
  • I will serve
  • I will go
  • I will give generously
  • I will not be a church dropout
  • I will avoid the traps of Christianity
  • I will make a difference

Can you see where this goes? I Will assembles a very practical set of commitments that could form the basis of a church-wide campaign or assimilation class. In fact, you’ll find a fairly complete church resource kit at

I’m glad I took a look at I Will. If you’re on the lookout for some ideas that will help move your church from self-centered and self-serving to others-centered…you need to take a look at I Will. I found it very helpful and I think you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Warning: Without This Essential Skill You Can’t Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry

speaking the truthI believe there is an essential skill that is missing in almost every case where building a thriving small group ministry proves difficult. What is it? I believe it is the ability to speak the truth in love.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus the Apostle Paul wrote, “We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”

Whether we simply haven’t developed the skill or ability to speak the truth in love, or perhaps we lack the courage to speak the truth, I am more convinced every day that if this essential skill missing build anything of significance.

  • Speaking the truth in love is essential if you want to build an effective coaching structure. Only the right men and women can do what needs to be done by a coach. Keeping a coach on the team who is not capable or not willing to do the job weakens the entire structure.
  • Speaking the truth in love is essential if you want to develop and disciple leaders. If all you do is make it easy to begin as a leader but never personally invest in developing and discipling them, you cannot expect them to become the kind of leaders who will disciple members.
  • Speaking the truth in love is essential if you want your groups themselves to be circles of mutual care. If it’s easy to join a group but the group members never learn to speak the truth in love to one another, they will never be more than surface level acquaintances.

Can I give you a simple test to see if you’ve developed the skill?

  1. Do you have coaches who are really aren’t the right people?
  2. Do you have leaders who aren’t growing in Christ?
  3. Do you have groups of surface level acquaintances?

How’d you do? If you’re like me…hopefully you are seeing room for improvement and an area to focus on in training.

Image by Sabrina M


Top 5 Reasons Small Group Leaders Quit

quitThere are a number of reasons that small group leaders quit. While some quit for good reasons, most quit for reasons that are completely avoidable.

Here are what I believe are the top 5 reasons:

  1. They aren’t being developed and discipled by a coach. This is probably the most common reason small group leaders quit. If someone (a coach or mentor) isn’t investing in them, it is unreasonable to think that the average leader will continue for long. While there will always be exceptional leaders who are essentially self-motivated, they are by definition the exceptions to the rule. Intentional investment in your leaders will overcome this very common reason for quitting. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciples Leaders.
  2. No one in their group is sharing the load. Some small group leaders don’t know any better and have never been coached to share the load with the members of their group. Others come naturally by misplaced pride that “since they do everything better than everyone else”…they can’t really let go of anything. Both patterns ultimately lead to burnout; both patterns lead to pent up frustrations that they have to do everything for the group to thrive or survive. In order for the leader and the group to survive, the leader must learn to share the load. See also, Skill Training: Priming the Leadership Pump and Skill Training: Rotating Host Homes.
  3. They are discouraged by member’s lack of participation. There are two main reasons for lack of member participation. First, not every leader comes equipped with a natural ability to facilitate. Those who don’t must learn the art of facilitating a discussion/conversation. Poorly facilitated groups usually die on their own, long before the leader quits. Attendance dwindles when everyone isn’t engaged in the group meeting. Teaching leaders the how to facilitate a great discussion ought to be part of your leader development plan. Second, smaller groups allow and encourage more participation. As a group grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for less dominating personalities to participate. Learning to sub-group is an essential leader skill. See also, Skill Training: How to Stimulate Better Discussions and Skill Training: Sub-Grouping for Deeper Connection.
  4. Their group dwindles in size and they can’t (or won’t) fish for new members. Some small group leaders are only interested in “leading” a gathered group. When members move away or otherwise opt out of the group, this kind of leader’s only recourse is to inform the small group pastor that they need some more members. And since feeding additional members to existing groups is almost never a successful strategy for growth, training your leaders to fish for their own new members is not optional. It is an essential skill for small group leaders. See also, Skill Training: Top 10 Ways to Find New Group Members.
  5. The leader is unable to manage an issue within the group. Many groups come with a difficult personality or two. Carl George coined the term EGR (extra grace required) for the group member that requires extra attention. When the leader is unprepared for the challenge of skillfully leading through issues with problem personalities, sometimes it is just easier to quit than lovingly confront. This is primarily a coaching issue. When new leaders are given a coach from the beginning, challenging personalities can usually be spotted quickly and an appropriate strategy developed. See also, Four Questions Every Coach Should Be Asking.

Image by Pabak Sarkar

Add David Platt’s Counter Culture to Your Recommended List

counter cultureI finally had an opportunity this week to take a look at Counter Culture, the newest study from David Platt. A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture is designed to expose participants to the truths of the gospel that should “compel us to a contrite, compassionate, and courageous personal response to social issues in the culture.” Based on Platt’s 2015 book by the same title, the study looks at many of the most pressing social issues of the day:

  • slavery
  • abortion
  • sexual immorality
  • the degradation of marriage
  • the neglect of orphans and widows
  • racism
  • persecution

Dr. David Platt is probably best known for challenging books like Radical and Follow Me (and the small group studies that were developed from these books). He is “President of the International Mission Board, is deeply devoted to Christ and His Word. David’s first love in ministry is making disciples, sharing, showing, and teaching God’s Word in everyday life. He has traveled extensively to serve alongside church leaders throughout the United States and around the world (from his bio).”

Counter Culture is a 6 session DVD-driven study. The video segments average just over 30 minutes in length and are both very engaging and extremely challenging. Platt is a dynamic and passionate communicator and has no trouble holding the attention of participants.

The member book includes the now standard video viewing guide and group discussion questions. It also includes a well-written set of daily lessons (5 per week) that build on the group teaching.

This is a simple study to use. Although there isn’t a leader’s guide included, it shouldn’t be difficult for even an inexperienced leader to facilitate. At the same time, the content is deeply challenging. Like everything David Platt does, Counter Culture will reveal a pathway for Christ-followers that leads above and beyond the humdrum salt-free and light-free 21st century Christianity. If you’re looking for a study that will expose your group members to a life that is beyond ordinary, add Counter Culture to your recommended list.

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